Kinder, gentler Taliban. Out: Ministry for Women. In: Propagation of virtue and prevention of vice

AP Photo/Gulabuddin Amiri

The Taliban is settling in as the new rulers in Afghanistan and some changes are being made. Women are subjected to home detention, advised to stay at home, and only go out if escorted by a male relative. School has opened for boys but not for girls. Does this sound like a new and improved version of the Taliban?

It sounds like Afghanistan is back to the bad old days for most Afghans, especially women and girls. Islamic extremists are back in charge. The Women’s Affairs Ministry is gone, replaced by a new department devoted to the promotion of virtue and preventing vice.

In Kabul, a new sign was up outside the women’s affairs ministry, announcing it was now the “Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Staff of the World Bank’s $100 million Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was run out of the Women’s Affairs Ministry, were escorted off the grounds, said program member Sharif Akhtar, who was among those being removed.

The Biden administration’s State Department and White House press secretary keep saying that the Taliban want to be players on the world stage and will act accordingly. The naivety of that idea is off the charts. The Taliban don’t care about the world stage. They intend to return to the days of living in a 7th-century country and that includes Sharia law. Westernization will not be nurtured and the fledgling freedoms women and girls experienced during the last 20 years are disappearing. The Taliban will brutally enforce their will.

News agencies are promoting Taliban propaganda. Just look at this tweet from Reuters that implies all is well – men, women, and children are enjoying time at an amusement park. The problem with the video that accompanies the tweet is that that the presence of maybe one woman is detected, the rest are all men and children. There is nothing ‘normal’ about that scene in the western world.

The hardliners are making inroads in locking down women and girls. Boys are asked to return to school but not girls. Girls have to wait for classes that gender-segregate, which likely means separate schools. Who knows when that will be available?

Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women’s Network, said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls.

On Friday, the Taliban-run education ministry asked boys from grades six to 12 back to school, starting on Saturday, along with their male teachers. There was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school. Previously, the Taliban’s minister of higher education minister, had said girls would be given equal access to education, albeit in gender-segregated settings.

“It is becoming really, really troublesome. … Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?” Suraj said. “I know they don’t believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”

Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements perhaps reflect divisions within the Taliban as they seek to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing out to hard-liners among them, at least for now.

The Taliban are gaslighting Westerners by publicly stating that women will be free to be in the open, in public spaces, and will be protected as other minorities are. Yet, the leaders give contradictory orders to the enforcers, the rank and file on the round. UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay voiced concern over the decision to deny girls education in classrooms.

“Should this ban be maintained, it would constitute an important violation of the fundamental right to education for girls and women,” Azoulay said in a statement upon her arrival in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

That’s all well and good but the Taliban don’t care about violating the fundamental rights of anyone, especially women and girls. It’s what they do. It shows gullibility to believe otherwise. History will repeat itself in Afghanistan. There are no leadership roles in the new Taliban cabinet. It is a radicalized version of Islam that denies education for girls.

The United States has paid a lot of money to encourage opportunities for women in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Girls born just before and since America’s presence in the country do not know life under the radicalized Islamic rule of the Taliban. Women expect the worst to come now.

In the nearly two decades since the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban, the United States has invested more than $780 million to encourage women’s rights. Girls and women have joined the military and police forces, held political office, competed in the Olympics and scaled the heights of engineering on robotics teams — opportunities that once seemed unimaginable under the Taliban.

The question now is whether the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law will be as draconian as when the group last held power.

There are already scattered signs that, at least in some areas, the Taliban have begun to reimpose the old order.

In Herat, in western Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen guarded the university’s gates and prevented female students and instructors from entering the campus on Tuesday, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Kandahar, women’s health care clinics were shut down, a resident said. In some districts, girls’ schools have been closed since the Taliban seized control of them in November.

Women there said they were starting to wear the head-to-toe burqa in the street, partly in fear and partly in anticipation of restrictions ordered by the Taliban.

Maybe schools will be set up in private homes for girls, as happened in the previous years of rule by the Taliban. Medical care will likely be segregated by sex again, too.

A few small groups of women have protested the move backward but it likely will not be allowed to continue for long.

An atypical image in Afghanistan.
The first women’s demonstration after the Taliban movement to the capital, Kabul.